RI, Providence officials aim to improve HIV treatment

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI/AP) — As people around the globe observed World AIDS Day, a local doctor said work is being done right here in Rhode Island to slow the spread of the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say more than a million Americans have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Because of advances in medical science and technology, many HIV-positive patients are living longer, fuller lives. In some cases, patients can take one pill a day to keep the deadly virus from multiplying. However, the search for a cure continues.

Dr. Karen Tashima is an infectious disease doctor at Miriam Hospital. She is spearheading clinical trials she hopes will help keep positive patients healthier.

“People can get very sick and usually become susceptible to infections,” Tashima said, adding that HIV-positive patients become more at risk for heart disease and strokes.

She and her team are studying whether cholesterol-lowering medicine can prevent HIV-positive patients from getting heart attacks.

“It’s a wonderful study. It’s a very large study, so we’ll need  a lot of volunteers,” Tashima said.

Tashima’s team is also researching how to prevent people with HIV from getting cancer and liver disease.

She said a good way to help stop the spread of the disease is to get tested.

In fact, state and city officials have signed on to an effort to ensure nearly everyone who is infected with HIV is diagnosed and treated.

Ahead of Worlds AIDS Day Tuesday, the Rhode Island Department of Health and the city of Providence Monday announced they were joining the international “90 90 90” campaign.

The campaign aims to ensure that by 2020, 90 percent of people with HIV are diagnosed and know they’re infected, are connected with medical care and treatment, and have suppressed viral loads, meaning the infection is less likely to be transmitted.

The state says 89 percent of the more than 2,800 Rhode Islanders who are HIV-positive know of their diagnosis, compared with 86 percent nationally.

Sixty percent are getting treatment, compared with 40 percent nationally. Fifty-six percent have suppressed viral loads, compared with 30 percent nationally.

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